Most people work hard to build a life of ease. Meanwhile, Joe de Sena works hard to shake people out of their comfort zones and into the next level of life. He gets people off their couches to unlock secrets of success in all aspects of life through the Spartan lifestyle.
A recent guest on my Now to Next podcast, Joe de Sena is the CEO and Founder of Spartan (yes, those intense obstacle course races!) and author of: Spartan Up, Spartan Fit, and The Spartan Way. And I want to share some of the intriguing insights he had on the show with you.
Growing up in Queens, Joe was an entrepreneur from a young age. He sold his first successful pool-cleaning business with a book of about 700 clients the year he graduated from college. After that, he worked his way to Wall Street.
Joe started running marathons during his time on Wall Street. He became an endurance runner and adventure racer, doing races like the Ironman triathlon. Eventually, this passion led him to purchase a farm in Vermont where he launched the Spartan Race and helped him define his own rules to life.
So, without further ado, here are the six keys to success from empire-builder Joe de Sena:
Focus on What You’re Providing, Not on What They’re Paying You
The Strategic Coach, Dan Sullivan, (who has been my coach for years) says what makes entrepreneurs stand apart is they believe in providing value before they expect anything in return. They serve first and know they will be served.
For Joe de Sena, this lesson came from an unlikely source. Growing up in Queens, his neighborhood was crime-family central. When Joe’s parents were divorcing in his early teens, a neighbor who was part of that crime world hired him to clean his pool.
The job came with business advice, and young Joe took the lessons to heart. There were three basic lessons:
- Be early because on time is late.
- Go above and beyond.
- Don’t have your hand out for money — do a good job and the money will come.
Applying these three principles, Joe grew his pool cleaning business into a dominant player in the area.
Practice Adversity: The Death Race
After years of doing marathons and triathlon races, Joe imagined a challenge that truly confronted people in the way that life does. He wanted to surround himself with great people and create an opportunity to achieve beyond what they understood was possible.
Joe designed the Death Race to shake you up as a human being. Nothing about it is easy. Part of the race is getting there and getting started, because Joe is known to change the start time, move the finish line, and in other ways disrupt a racer’s comfort zone from the get-go.
When he was doing the Ironman and other races, it would drive Joe crazy when people would quit because of bad weather or a broken bike chain. He saw how everyone would get a trophy and realized many of us are too “bubble wrapped.”
We cannot quit life. We do not get to quit COVID-19, or any of the other obstacles that will cross our paths. Joe craved events and a system that trained us for the unpredictable adversity of life.
If you think about it, we practice math and piano but not adversity. The great Greek and Roman philosophers did. They would go sleep like bums out in the street to remember what they had to appreciate at home. The Japanese Samurai would close their eyes before going to sleep at night and bury all their possessions and family. In the morning, they awoke grateful it was all still there.
The Death Race shows participants sides of themselves they haven’t seen. Only 10% to 15% of racers finish and are awarded the skull-shaped trophy. Those that finish find a new gear in their lives, and some have continued to achieve remarkable things, from climbing mountains to starting businesses.
You Should be Mentally and Physically Tough: The Spartan Race
Once the Death Race was underway, Joe wanted an event that stood out and shook you up but could appeal to a larger audience. With a military-inspired obstacle course, the Spartan Race is as much about mental toughness as physical training.
Participants crawl under barbed wire and over walls. It is physically challenging, mentally fun, and rewarding. Triathlons can get boring on the long stretches. The Spartan Race is not boring. You feel like a badass.
We get so few opportunities to face the hard stuff, but facing challenges unearths our humanity. Pushing yourself beyond expectations peels away the superficial layers and reveals the strength and resilience you can find at your core.
Although most events are on hold for COVID-19 this year, the Spartan Race takes place in 45 countries. Typically, two million people participate in 325 events worldwide.
Sometimes hailed as “an instant success,” the Spartan Race is actually the result of 15 years of Joe’s steady effort.
Improve Your Metabolic Health
Only 12% of America is metabolically healthy, or one in eight people. This means that seven out of eight people have increased risk for heart disease, strokes, and diabetes.
The body of a metabolically healthy person has steady blood sugar levels, healthy cholesterol, blood pressure, and a height-appropriate waist size. It means that person is not taxing their organs or digestive system. They burn what they consume and their body is efficiently processing what they eat.
Joe’s book, Spartan Fit, uncovers how capitalism has snuck into our food system. Making money is great, but not at the expense of people’s lives and health. If we really want to make American great again, we will make America fit again.
Big food has the research and advertising budgets to make insanely tasty, wildly addictive, and utterly crappy food. Joe states that Washington, and its very powerful lobbyists represent its interests.
Good health makes life better, but we’re giving our vitality away to poor choices. Not enough people are taking control of their food and fitness choices — to the extent that our health as a nation has been impacted.
Joe’s approach to maintaining health is to consistently have a goal to achieve. You can sign up for a marathon. Put a fight or a performance on the calendar. Schedule an event where other people will see you. Work towards something and your life will start to organize around it.
Practice Olympic Time Management
Would you like a simple and streamlined approach to time management? This effective method took an ordinary British rowing team to win the Olympic gold medal. Authors Harriet Beveridge and Ben Hunt-Davis shared the team’s stories in Will It Make the Boat Go Faster?
In essence, the team’s mantra was, “Will it make the boat go faster?”
For example, if they had just won an outstanding victory and wanted to get some beers and sleep in to celebrate, they asked, “Will it make the boat go faster?”
Since the answer was usually no, they stuck to their training schedule. Every choice was held up to the “will this make the boat go faster” standard, and that discipline got them the Olympic gold.
Joe’s approach to time management is the same. He asks, “Is this getting me closer to my goal?”
Time is the most precious thing we have. We cannot put another quarter in the machine and get more.
Don’t Worry. Build Discipline.
Discipline is a muscle, and like any other muscle, you have to build it up.
The first step in building discipline is to set a goal and put it on the calendar. Write down your goal and post it everywhere.
Make yourself accountable by sticking your neck out and telling people what you’re doing. Create a narrative around yourself that supports that discipline.
Once you’ve committed, how you feel that day cannot have anything to do with it. If you’re feeling resistance or distracted just say:
“I know I’ve got to do six hours, but I’m just going to do 20 minutes.”
Once you get started, you’ll usually want to keep going.
One enemy to discipline is worry. Joe says:
“It either is going to happen or it isn’t, how would you know? When people worry around me, I think what a waste of time! Get after it. Make the boat go faster. Who has time to worry? Put your head down, get the work done right now.”
Those are just a few of the principles Joe lives by…and based on the passion he showed on my podcast I may be adopting at least one or two of them as well. To check out the full episode for yourself, you can watch the video on Youtube or select your favorite audio podcast provider (feel free to leave a review and subscribe so you can catch future episodes of “Now to Next” too!).
You can follow Joe de Sena on Instagram @joedesena, or email him two sentences or less (his rules) at Joe@spartan.com.